Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, April 29, 2006

More Republican "Virtues" On Display

Turns out Duke Cunningham was into other things. Bribes and hookers. Great stuff. This man preached "family values" over and over again. Duke Cunningham has to be the poster child for Republican "values" this year. The religious right supports these people because they are massive hypocrites.


The Truth about Gasoline

I learned these things from my time representing oil companies (I did for a couple of years, ashamed I am to say). It was interesting to learn about gasoline patents and the chemistry and sales issues. All of this is public information, at least insofar as it is not protected by any attorney-client privilege.

1. Gasoline is stored in big tanks near refineries. You can see them everywhere, shaped like macaroons or hamburgers. They are wide, cylindrical, and usually about twice as wide as tall. Now, how do you get gasoline out of them? You can't just scoop it out of the top, because the top is actually floating. Why floating? If it didn't float, there would be a gap between gas and top of tank that would be filled with flammable vapors. Gas is taken out of a tap in the bottom. Well, not quite the bottom, obviously. Near the bottom, like the tap on a nice cooler chest. About 5-10 feet of gasoline are in the bottom and never really emptied until it comes time to clean the tank and you have to suck it all out. Let's just say it's not the cream of the crop at this point. I understand that is what ARCO buys (cheap) and it sells that dirty crap to customers (mixing it with other stuff). So that's why ARCO is cheap (in CA at least) and why it's a bad idea for your car to buy it (p.s. bar watchdogs: this is not confidential attorney-client information, but overheard at a big dinner from Chevron execs who were trashing their ARCO colleagues -whom they despised- a few seats down).

2. I also learned that premium gasoline is a byproduct of producing regular gasoline, which would otherwise have to be thrown out. Here in CA, they have 87, 89, and 91 or 92 octane gas. They market each "grade" always about 10cents higher than the one below. They all do this together, and there is no competition - the prices of different grades move together, not independently based on demand. The prices always move together. It does not cost more to make the higher octane - it is a necessary by product. When you "crack" the fuel it is exactly like distilling whisky. In whisky, the master distiller discards the first 10% of the distillate and the last 10%, known as the "feints" which are not desired because they consist of compounds that boil at lower and higher temperatures, respectively, than the desired main run. In other words, as you heat it up, the first stuff to boil is crap and the last stuff is crap.

3. No cars need more than 87 octane. It's especially funny that people with big expensive luxury cars think they need "better" gasoline. That's all a sales gimmick. I was told that only the worst OLDER engines "need" higher fuel. The top of the line luxury cars can do fine on 85 or worse. Better engines can do more with less, which makes sense. The problem is that oil companies have to sell this byproduct or dump it. Higher octane gas isn't cleaner burning, by the way - in fact, the lower octane gas is specially formulated to release less of the "greenhouse" gases. The remainder of the distillate becomes plastic or is tossed.

4. Oil runs the gamut from light sweet crude (Alaska) to thick heavy stuff. These different varieties crack (distill) at different temperatures in different amounts. So, for example, the T50 of light sweet crude (the temperature at which 50% of it boils) is different than the T50 of heavy crude. Refineries are fine tuned to take shipments of certain types of oil from certain places. Oil is not, in fact, fungible. Drilling ANWR would help California a lot, but not so much the East Coast refineries that depend on other sources of heavier stuff.

5. It turns out that the right "cut" of the oil with a very specific T50 and T90 (the temps at which 50% and 90% boil or "vaporize") burns very cleanly very very low emissions. This is what we burn in CA as "reformulated" gasoline, and it is 90% responsible for the decrease in smog in our cities. This also means we have a unique supply problem, with only about 5 or 6 refineries for the whole state. Pipelines do not cross the Rockies. These sorts of special state standards are what Bush calls "boutique fuels" and oil companies don't like them. They have to spend more to make them. The sales price of oil does not require oil companies to sell gas more cheaply (they sell that oil, they don't buy it), but refining costs do matter.

6. If you can find racing fuel in your neighborhood, give it a try. Racing fuel is not a byproduct of the petroleum cracking, but is special. Instead of being a hodgepodge of hundreds of hydrocarbons produced in the big distillation jamboree, it is specially formulated of 3 or 4 compounds tops. It gets 104 octane, and your car will sing. The difference between 87 and 92 octane is like the difference between 2-buck-chuck and Kendall Jackson box wine (take your pick which is which). Racing fuel is a '45 Bordeaux. It costs about $6-$8/gallon where sold (there are 4 stations in LA which do). It's starting to seem not so bad.

7. In most places, there ain't no difference between gasolines sold at Mobil, Texaco, Exxon, or other gas stations across the street. They transmit them in shared pipelines around the country. Each company puts X gallons in the pipe, and withdraws X amount at the other end. It's all mixed up on the way. Chevron puts in the Techron stuff at the end before putting it in the tanker trucks. ARCO, as mentioned before, does its own supply system differently.

Hope this was interesting.


Friday, April 28, 2006

Secrets and Tax Lies II

[This is a continuation of USWest's post "Secrets and Tax Lies" (4/27/06). I needed to make a separate post so I could include a chart.]

Few things anger me more than deliberate misuse of statistics, and there were some real whoppers in the NPR Marketplace Report from WSJ editorial board member Steve Moore. (Incidentally, since when does a respectable news outlet get to interview editorial staff at another news outlet and then reclassify the resulting opinion piece as news?)

Mr. Moore said that the share of taxes paid by the rich was rising and had risen during Bush's presidency. Dubious, I went to the the IRS directly and found the actual tax data Mr. Moore had referred to, then put together some annotated charts (please click on the charts to enlarge them).

First, note that Mr. Moore conveniently made his comparisons of present day to 2001, not 2000 (the last year before the Bush tax cuts.) Had he made an honest comparison to 2000, we would see a clear drop in tax share for the rich during Bush's term in office. So Mr. Moore lied about the effect of the Bush tax cuts.

Second, one can see that the tax share of the wealthy has been rising (in general) for about 20 years... but this is not, as Mr. Moore claims, because of disproportionate tax hikes on the rich. Instead it is because of their disproportionate gains in income! Look at how neatly the income statistics below track the tax statistics above:

Third, Mr. Moore neglected corporate income tax, predominantly paid by the upper percentiles. From 2000 to 2002 (the most recent year for which the IRS gives corporate data), a combination of economic factors and Bush tax cuts reduced the total tax collected from all individual income tax returns by 18%, while during the same time, the total tax collected from all corporate income tax returns was reduced by 25%! So once again, Mr. Moore conveniently forgot to mention the extra large tax cut that the wealthy enjoyed via the corporate tax cuts.

Finally, these taxes do not simply fall into a black hole, as right-wingers would have you believe. The government spends this money and in so doing returns it to people of various income levels. And as USWest and others have pointed out, the Bush years have shifted these expenditures away from the the lower 90% by cutting services, etc. The point is, if you slice the pie honestly, the Bush tax cuts were a windfall for the rich in several ways, and even the underlying trend toward increasing high-end tax share merely reflects growing income inequality.

[Sources: "Selected Ascending Cumulative Percentiles of Returns Based on Income Size Using the Definition of AGI for Each Year." Published as: SOI Bulletin article - Individual Income Tax Rates and Tax Shares, Tables 5 and 6. And "Size and Accumulated Size of Adjusted Gross Income." Published as: "Individual Complete Report (Publication 1304), Table 1.1" Both available here. Also "SOI Tax Stats - Corporation Data by Size." Available here. ]


They Just Don't Get It

So the news today is that a Spanish-language version of the US National Anthem called "Nuestro Himno" was recorded by a bunch of Latin pop stars and will be released today. Conservative bloggers are calling it the "Illegal Alien National Anthem." When I saw the headline about the Spanish-language anthem, I gagged. Fear of bilingualizing America is a massive part of the politics of illegal immigration. I am 100% opposed to it. America speaks English. Period. English is our language. It's great to speak other languages too, but we must not destroy what we have in common. We share nothing in common as a people but the fact that we live together and that we speak a common language. I know I'm going to start a shitstorm here, but I don't care. The activists who think that America should be bilingual are out of their minds. Do they want to be Quebec or Belgium? Or Nigeria? Do they want a permanent minority that can't transact business outside Spanish speaking areas? This is the sort of thing that fuels the English-only campaigns with their nasty racist edge. Stop it, stop it! It's just no bueno. Go ahead and chant "Si, se puede!" I'll join you if I can. This is even dumber than waiving around the Mexican flag all over the place. Don't attack precious symbols of national unity and expect anything but a massive political backlash. I'm a good liberal but I love my country and consider this "Nuestro Himno" a secular blasphemy. It's pure political suicide. What's next, flag burning? This plays into the hands of the right wing like you can't believe.


Thursday, April 27, 2006



There's a funny story behind this picture... and it involves congressman John Sweeney of congressional district NY-20. He is the Republican incumbent, fighting off a challenge from Kirsten Gillibrand for his seat. Now I don't know much about Ms. Gillibrand, but whatever she is, she HAS to be better than:

  • ...the leader of the Brooks Brothers Riot. You remember that wonderful debacle, right? If not, check out the article.
  • ... a man with one of the worst environmental records in Congress, receiving a 17% out of 100% from the League of Conservation Voters and a whopping 0% out of 100% from the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.
  • ...someone who is under fire because of a ski trip to Utah with lobbyists, while pretending to be on the side of lobby reform.
  • ...and who appears to be skimming campaign contributions into a personal account.
And now the incident from the picture. I have a feeling that Ms. Gillibrand will see a few more campaign dollars coming her way soon, and that this race will take on some added national attention.


Secrets and Tax Lies

The Economist Magazine ran an article called "Aprils' Hard Truth" in its April 15th edition that I found interesting. And last night, I heard a similar story on NPR. The upshot is that the share of income taxes paid by wealthy Americans has increased since 2001. The difference in the two stories was impressive. I highlight them both here because for starters, the Bush people are going to try and sell the idea that the Bush tax cuts need to be made permanent, something Congress is set to look at pretty soon. And if people are just listening to commentator spins without considering the implications, then they will buy into the entirely wrong idea.

The argument on NPR's Marketplace Report was that the rich pay more taxes. According to commentator and Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Steve Moore, the rich are not benefiting from Bush's tax cuts. They are earning less of total income and paying more of the total income. He sites IRS statistics that say "the percentage of federal income taxes paid by those who make more than $200,000 a year has actually risen from 41% to 47% in recent years". He says that the number of people earning over $50k a year has increased from 3 out of 10 people to 4 out of 10 people since 1990 (It only took 16 years!). All of this, he concludes is due to Bush's tax cuts that are "pumping steroids into the US economy creating 5 million new jobs".

I point this out because there are a number of things this slick commentator doesn't say. The Economist article accurately points out that measuring tax progressiveness and thus fairness by the percentages paid by each income group is unreliable. That can vary widely depending on a host of other factors such as a stock market crash, a housing bubble burst, inflation, etc. Then there is the difference between income taxes and payroll taxes, which hit the poorest 60% of tax payers the hardest.

Mr. Moore doesn't say that rising fuel prices and inflation are pushing up costs of living while slowly eating away at the purchasing power of a dollar. So people earning $50k now do not have the same purchasing power that they had in 1990. He doesn't tell you the percentage of the 5 million new jobs that are actually fair paying, full time positions with medical insurance and 401K plans. He doesn't point out that more families that are now considered "middle class" in terms of income and are getting hit with the AMT. Nor does he discuss marginal income tax rates, which haven't really changed for may people, and in some instances have actually increased.

The Economist is less concerned with promoting Bush's tax cuts and more focused on demonstrating why the US tax code needs to be overhauled. They point out the maze of temporary credits and write-offs, some that actually cause increases in marginal income tax rates for families. The number of pages in the U.S. code have increased by 40% over the last 6 years and there are now 582 different tax forms issued by the IRS.

If you have a system so complex that the citizens can't even penetrate or understand it, it is unjust by its very nature. So my advice: don't get "snowed" (by either Secretary Snow or Press secretary Snow) into believing that the tax cuts should be made permanent. We need a whole new tax system.


Stop me before I throw up

Exxon Mobil First-Quarter Profit Rises as Oil Prices Surge

Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's biggest oil company, said first-quarter net income climbed to $8.4 billion from $7.86 billion as increasing global energy demand lifted prices.
This coming on the heels of the story that Lee Raymond, Exxon's former chairman, just received a $356 million retirement package. Boy, if this doesn't make your blood boil ...
Bill Maher said recently that if the Democrats don't turn Raymond into their Willie Horton, they don't deserve to be in charge. I think he's right. This is definitely a face that can make people stand up and demand change.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Christians Oppose Gay Silence

NPR is reporting that Christian student groups are organizing counter demonstrations against a "Day of Silence" intended to protest bullying and discrimination against Gay students. So if Gay Americans say what they think, Christians object. Now they object even to Gay Americans (and their friends and relatives) saying absolutely nothing.

LTG will rightly point out that not all self described Christians think this way. It would be really nice if his kind of Christians organized a counter-counter demonstration protesting the cooptation of spirituality in the name of bigotry and hate.


Alternative Fuels, Bush Style

Hi Everyone,

With oil and gas prices setting records people are in a panic casting around for alternatives. In this type of atmosphere it is tempting to think that any alternative fuel plan is a good thing. But they are not equal. And the plans put forward most aggressively by Bush are indicative.

Bush supports ethanol, bio-diesel and hydrogen technology. Why? Because those alternatives preserve the oil companies' control over retail distribution. Ethanol and bio-diesel have the added "advantage" (for Bush) of being massive subsidies for agricultural interests. Americans should reject these approaches out of hand. The mere fact that Bush wants them should make us recoil in horror.

The real solution is electric car technologies; starting with hybrids. Ultimately we will continue to be "over a barrel" regarding energy so long as we allow big Texas energy companies like Exxon et al and Enron style energy brokers to have control over distribution. That means that nuclear power will not solve the political problem - it might solve the emissions problems as long as we can find a place to put the waste and the plants don't blow up. Solar energy, in combination with electric cars, is the solution. Solar energy would allow us to decentralize the power grid and electric cars would decentralize the transportation fuel infrastructure.

Republicans are too beholden to Big Energy. Only Democrats will consider the real solution. Republicans will continue to propose false solutions like ethanol and hydrogen that sound amazing. But the numbers don't add up on those sources and - worst of all - they lock in the power of corporate fat cats.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Revolt against National ID Cards

There is a growing revolt against the "Real ID" act that would, in effect, create a nationwide database and registration for every person.

This bill overwhelmingly passed the NH lower house, and is expected to become law. A coalition of libertarians and rightwing Republicans championed the bill, with ACLU support.

In the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Six
AN ACT prohibiting New Hampshire from participating in a national identification card system.
Be it Enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court convened:
1 Prohibition Against Participation in National Identification System. The general court finds that the public policy established by Congress in the Real ID Act of 2005, Public Law 109-13, is contrary and repugnant to Articles 1 through 10 of the New Hampshire constitution as well as Amendments 4 though 10 of the Constitution for the United States of America. Therefore, the state of New Hampshire shall not participate in a national identification card system; nor shall the department of safety amend the procedures for applying for a driver’s license under RSA 263 or an identification card under RSA 260:21.
2 Effective Date. This act shall take effect 60 days after its passage."


Friday, April 21, 2006

Types of Political Violence

I think there is a lot of confusion expressed here about conventional warfare, guerrilla warfare, protest, genocide, and terrorism. Largely because I taught a seminar about this once, I feel I have something to offer, but I'm not trying to be canonical. Let me explain. All of these might be classified as forms of political violence, and they all have certain things in common: (1) the motivation for action political; (2) violence, including civilian/bystander death, is legitimate under certain circumstances. The primary difference for this discussion is not the level of violence per se, but the circumstances under which civilian death is acceptable.
At one end of the spectrum are terrorists like Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda had a political motivation, which is different from a political goal. Its primary purpose was to kill civilians. The difference between this activity and criminal activity (e.g., any serial murderer) or mass murder/suicide like Jonestown is entirely in its distinctly political motivation. The difference between this activity and genocide is that the killing of civilians was meant to send a political signal; it was not the desired end in itself. Hamas is not a genocidal organization in the sense that genocide is not its purpose.

The next gradation are terrorists like the ETA, and the PLO. These groups believe killing civilians is a primary means of achieving a political end, but they have a clear political goal in mind, unlike Al Qaeda, which simply wants to inflict a political cost on the USA, period. Al Qaeda cannot negotiate, because it has no purpose behind its violence other than to cause disruption – i.e., we cannot trade the threat of disruption for something else. Negotiation with such groups as the PLO is theoretically possible, and has in fact been done, because – tactics aside – what they desire is not simply to harm the enemy, but to achieve certain political results. Hamas, I believe, is in this category.

The next slight gradation is the IRA, which has both military and civilian targets, and often sends pre-attack warnings, being willing to accept fear as a substitute for civilian death. Whether this is more "moral" is not the point – it is a kind of terrorism that includes guerrilla tactics and is explicitly political in its goals. Put another way, the IRA only wants to threaten English civilians to get what they want – conquest of Protestant Northern Ireland – not for its own sake. Guerrilla warfare involves threats to the civilian population – usually civilians perceived as part of the power structure they oppose – but usually carries out its terrorist-type attacks on military targets (i.e., throwing a bomb in a police station or at a military checkpoint). Guerrillas often terrorize the civilian population as well, burning crops etc., but do not typically engage in killing of random civilians for its own sake.

Conventional warfare also differs in type. Total War, such as WWII, accepts horrific violence against civilians as acceptable so long as the ultimate goal is military, whether tactical (better) or strategic (worse, e.g., achieving surrender). The debate over Dresden and Hiroshima, for example, usually revolves around the military goal, not the legitimacy of targeting a civilian population to achieve that end, whether it was even strategic or just revenge. There is a mythology of Conventional Warfare that marginalizes total war, although that is probably its modal type.
Non-Total conventional war, of the sort the US employed in Iraq or on the Falkland Islands, is warfare where the killing of civilians is considered unacceptable except by a very high degree of military necessity. We like to believe that this is how we have always fought.

Paying attention to differences and to these creteria helps us see the problems of political violence more clearly. All groups that deliberately target civilians are not alike. Deliberately targeting civilians is not even unique to terrorists. September 11th did not change any of the realities of warfare, just American politics.

The distinction between war and crime is the distinction between military and civilian law. Maintaining that distinction is the core of our liberty. We risk losing the "Rule of Law" if we return to a Medieval world where all acts of violence are considered political violence and punished by the military authorities. At the far (Al Qaeda) end of the spetrum, terrorists differ from criminals (destroying lives and property) only because the motivation is political, rather than just anti-social, pathological, or financial. (It is interesting that those who oppose hate crime legislation on the theory that it punishes motivations fail to see that the entire distinction between terrorism and crime is not degree, but motivation). On the West Wing once, a supposedly liberal character said "Of course he's a terrorist, he took a shot at the White House." That was among the most dangerous things I've ever heard.

Let me put this another way. If we cannot find a place for Al Qaeda-type terrorists in the law, it will destroy the law. That is what Bush, Ashcroft, Gonzalez, etc. are doing. The law is a seamless web, covering all situations. Guantanamo, a place with no law, is a black hole eating away at the web. Destroying the Rule of Law in the west may be Al Qaeda's real objective. If so, they cannot do it -only we can. To my mind, the best way to handle Al Qaeda is to think of it as a criminal organization - like the mafia - that requires military and paramilitary tools to attack. But their prisoners belong in the criminal justice system, not a military system. The reason is that the Uniform Code of Military Justice may be the finest achievement of Anglo-American law, and it cannot bear the weight of punishing terrorists as if they were soldiers.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Enron's Biggest Crime

Hi Everyone,

The Enron trial turned to a subject that I feel gets no where enough attention: the manufactured California electricity crisis in 2000 and 2001. There is considerable evidence that Enron and other, mainly Texas based, energy companies manipulated the electricity supply in California with the goal of extracting billions of illegal profits from the people of that state. It is my belief that if a thorough investigation were to take place that we would learn that Dick Cheney's secret meeting with energy execs is a secret precisely because it dealt with the California issue. By the way, the Bush administration has largely protected these companies from anti-trust prosecution demanded by the State of California.

Also, the electricity crisis was a major contributing factor in the recall of Democratic Governor Grey Davis and his replacement by Populist/Republican Schwarzenegger.

This is the biggest energy related scandal since Tea Pot Dome and we'll never know about it unless the Democrats win at least one house of Congress this fall! Vote Democrat!!!


Survey USA Poll

Hi Everyone,

Check out this poll from Survey USA. Bush is even in negative approval numbers in Texas!

Why? Because a number of scandals are brewing...scandals which result from actions before the election but were covered up until after the election and which the press virtually ignored at that time in favor of mindless horse race stories. If we (the American voters) knew then what we know now, would Bush have come close to winning in 2004? How badly did the journalists fail us? How does the way in which journalists are trained in this country contribute to this?


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Weird Journalism

I have long been interested in photo journalism and how it can change the tenor of a news story. Every so often I spot things in the media that make me wonder if someone is inattentive, stupid, or working on some hidden agenda. Take this screen shot from my computer today.

When you click on the photo, the caption reads: "Members of Iran's Basij militia take part in the Army Day military parade in Tehran, Iran April 18, 2006." If you don't bother to go deeper, it looks a lot like a Hamas protest. So why show guys in a annual parade who look like Hamas next to a picture about Bush and Iran? This leads me to wonder about who coordinated the page layout. The picture and the story don't seem to match and the subtle message seems to be that all of these people wearing green bandanas are the same; they are all out to get us.

Then there was this shot:

It's caption reads: "Iranian army members parade during a ceremony commemorating Army Day in front of the mausoleum of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini just outside Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, April 18, 2006".

It makes it look like Iran is gearing up for war with the help of Hamas. It sends all sort of messages. Granted, Hamas gets funding from Iran, but the two are currently in the news for very different reasons. And Hamas is less interested in terrorizing the US or helping Iran than getting a Palestinian State. This type of complexity gets lost when you throw shoddy journalism up on the web.

And can someone tell me why Bush will deny the validity of Sey Hersh's article in the New Yorker one week and then say all options are still on the table the next?


Monday, April 17, 2006

In case you were wondering ...

what Comedy Central asked South Park not to put on the air, here it is.

Update: Meh, it seems to have been taken down. If I can find a more permanent version, I'll post that. Until then, here's a clip from the original South Park where Mohammed was depicted.

Update 2: Now it appears that the "uncensored" version was a fake. This site has details, along with the fake clip, if you want to take a look.


Friday, April 14, 2006

Stars Align Against Rumsfeld

Six prominent, retired generals have now publicly called for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to resign: first Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, then Gen. Anthony Zinni, Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, Maj. Gen. John Batiste... and yesterday it was (4/13/06) Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack and Maj. Gen. Johnny Riggs.

I met Lt. Gen. Johnny Riggs briefly at a conference back in 2003--back when he was a three-star Lt. Gen.--before the Army stripped him of a star and unceremoniously retired him for criticizing the conduct of the Iraq war. It was an insulting and ignominious end to a highly decorated, 40-year Army career. (Ostensibly, his demotion was for a handful of technical infractions, all so insignificant that they were not placed on his official record, regarding permitting outside contractors to perform duities beyond their allowed scope.)

I had lunch with him at the conference, along with a few others at our table. He was intelligent and articulate... and also quite conservative. He started out with a few derogatory remarks about West Hollywood and it went on from there. (I also remember that when I asked him if he would pass the salt, and he sternly said, "No," then grinned and said of course he would--so at least he had a something of a sense of humor.)

I did not like the man much, and I strongly suspect his current public call for Rumsfeld to resign is also payback. But I am certain of this: before Rumsfeld canned him, Lt. Gen. Johnny Riggs was a loyal Army veteran working hard to transform the military, and when he told the Baltimore Sun in 2004 that the Army was too small to meet its new committments under Rumsfeld, he was speaking reluctantly, speaking from experience, probably speaking out of exasperation--and to the best of his ability, speaking the truth.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Respect my Authoritah!

'South Park' aims at censors, hits Bush, Jesus

Yeah, yeah, South Park was controversial, people were offended, etc. In other news, the sky is blue and water is wet. But this time, Comedy Central would not let them show a depiction of the prophet Mohammed, despite the fact that they have already done it once before (that's him on the right). People are getting a bit sensitive these days, huh?

But the part I like best from the article is this line from William Donohue of the anti-defamation group Catholic League:

"The ultimate hypocrite is not Comedy Central -- that's their decision not to show the image of Mohammed or not -- it's Parker and Stone," he said. "Like little whores, they'll sit there and grab the bucks. They'll sit there and they'll whine and they'll take their shot at Jesus. That's their stock in trade."
A little judgmental for a good Christian, isn't he?


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Guantanamo: Our National Shame

For those of you who did not hear it, on 3/10/06, This American Life put on a program detailing the facts at Guantanamo. It turns out that Seton Hall conducted a study of the prisoner profiles released by the government, and these show that more than 80% of the detainees were not "scooped up on the battlefield" as Bush, Cheney, and other dittohead Republicans repeat endlessly. They were handed over by Pakistani intelligence -- i.e., many are largely just enemies of the Musharraf regime. Also, there are many Uighurs there, while we tell the Chinese that they are not terrorists. More to the point, they are not prisoners of war in any real sense, but just people fingered by various "friendly" governments. There is obviously no reason for holding such people in something other than according to law.

It also explains habeas corpus very well, and why Bush's phony military "tribunals" are a farce. 1. The evidence against the prisoner is presumed true. 2. The accused may not have a laywer. 3. The accused may not see the evidence against him. Amazingly, some are still acquitted!

Then it explains the torture, electric shocks, beatings, and other things the government claims never happen, but won't let anyone check. Meanwhile, the government insists it can hold and use "coercive techniques" indefinitely. Bush has supprssed a hunger strike by force-feeding dozens.

We know Republicans are loyal little fascists, and nobody expects them to start respecting the rule of law. But where is the outrage from the Democrats? Start talking about how Guantanamo is a violation of everything Americans hold dear, and that patriots must speak out against it.


CA-50 Primary Results

Results from CA-50 are in. I don't really know what to make of them. Non-republicans got about 47% of the vote, with Busby leading the pack at 44%. Is this a good sign for her? It seems that it can hardly be considered a good sign for her opponent, Brian Bilbray (who only mustered 15%).

Keep in mind that this is a heavily Republican district. Cunningham won re-election in 2004 by over 20 points. So it looks possible for Busby to win, but I certainly wouldn't bet on it.

Anyone else have thoughts?


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

All the President's Men

I was presented with the latest edition of the DVD of the Robert Redford film "All the President's Men". The DVD has a lot of extras, interviews with Woodward and Bernstein and also several other journalists. There were several things that struck me, especially with Sey Hersh getting slammed by the Administration.

The first is that people often miss the point of Watergate. It was about secret, about dishonesty, illegality, election fixing, and most of all, it was about abuse of power. How, in just 30 years time, can we so quickly forget? The generation that lived through Watergate, that was so outraged by it, that watched it play out, is now in power doing the same things.

The second thing that I am again reminded of is the damage that the 24 hour news cycle has done to journalism. Woodward and Bernstein had to work hard over 2 years to get that story nailed. They had to get 3 confirmations for every accusation. And the management of the Post allowed them the freedom, the budget, and the time to do what they needed to do. We should expect no less from journalism today.

The New Yorker benefits greatly from the quality reporting of Sey Hersh and so do we. And I only hope that he isn't the last of investigative journalists. Journalism is really the last resort at curbing government power and keeping it honest. It is frightening how the media has taken so long to wake up and challenge this Administration, especially when most of this Administration worked in the Nixon and Ford Administrations. That alone should have raised red flags among the 4th estate because it sure raised them for me. It was immediately apparent to me when the first cabinet was appointed that we were in for a horrid 4 years. I really had no idea how bad at the time. Am I the only one astounded at how quickly one group of people can change things for the worst?

Anonymous sources are the next thing that I am thinking about. Sey Hersh is getting attacked for using anonymous sources. He is using sources that he has known and worked with for years! Anonymous sources are key to making sure that we get at the heart of the story. These sources were key to keeping Woodstein (Ben Bradley's name for the team) on track. In a climate of fear and distrust, no one will go on record. But the stories have to be told. So I won't fault journalists for using trusted anonymous sources. Administration officials that try to use that as an argument against investigative journalists are putting up straw men.

I recommend that you all get a copy and watch it again just to remind yourselves of what we should be aspiring to. I also recommend that you get the latest version with all the extras because the interviews are thought provoking.

To close, here is a fun fact for you. According to Alan Rusbridger of the Guardian on Radio Open Source, the Guardian has 14 million readers on line, that is more than LA Times. A majority of these readers, according to Rusbridger, are in the U.S. So don't tell me that Americans like conservative media. They keep turning to liberal outlets for information.


Monday, April 10, 2006

Quote of the week

Ok, he's done it again. Our president has spoken astounding words of wisdom.

"The doctrine of prevention is to work together to prevent the Iranians [pronounced eye-ray-knee-yans] from having a nuclear weapon."

Ok, dude. Whatever.


Trivia time!

Okay, three guesses as to which city was named the worst place to live in the world, and has topped that list for three years running ... (the three years is a hint)

Once you've made your guess, go ahead and read the article. Surprise!


Follow the Flag

The reporting on today's massive immigrants' rights rallies betrays the editorial positions of various papers. Just look at the pictures.

LA Times uses this picture:

Fox News admits that, "Unlike earlier protests in Los Angeles and other cities when many protestors waved flags from Mexico and other countries, activists Monday were waving American flags." And they use the same AP photo as LA times... but observe how it is cropped to exclude most of the American flags:


The conservative Orange County Register does not even bother to show the sea of humanity, but pretty much shows a lone person waving a straight, large Mexican flag and a crumpled U.S. flag :

...while the NY Times shows a huge picture of only American flags.

Fortunately, it looks like most major media outlets are following the format of the NY Times. CBS, ABC, CNN, and even some surprises like the San Diego Tribune showed a picture akin to the NY Times... although it was not the lead story on any of them.

It's good for the immigrants' rights movement that they have decided to celebrate their joy in their new home more than their pride in their ancestry. Now if only they could find a good, English equivalent for, "Si, se puede."


Cheese Eating Surrender Frogs

You heard it here first. The Cheese Eating Surrender Frogs (monkies aren't the right animals) have, as we predicted, folded. This comes after 2 months of street protests. The protesters were aided by disagreements between Villepin and Sarkozy over the wording of the new law. I hope the students are happy because in the long run, they aren't going to benefit from killing off Villepan or his jobs bill.

That said, at least the French government listens to its public and reacts accordingly. Our own government just took a 2 month vacation without passing an immigration bill and will ultimately ignore the street demonstrations across the US over the issue. So I guess we shouldn't be too hard on the French.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Shock and Awe II

Bush is at it again. And the GOP is letting him do it. There are no reasonable Republicans left. If the Democrats don't win in 2006 we'll be watching Bush engage in a pre-emptive air assault (probably with low yield nuclear "bunker busters") against Iran. Seymour Hirsch has a story about this in the New Yorker. I suggest you read it.

In other news. Bush and Cheney are having to change their story on the Valery Plame case again. Version 1.0 was that no one in the White House was involved. Version 1.1 was that they don't comment on ongoing investigations. Version 2.0 was that OK some White House staff might have been involved but certainly no one beyond Scooter Libby. Now we have version 3.0. Bush and Cheney were both involved but that's not a problem because they are allowed to leak this kind of information when ever they want.

Vote Democrat in all elections! Even a Republican dog catcher is a threat to our country right now. The GOP is completely under the thumb of war mongering religious fanatics!


Thursday, April 06, 2006

CA-50 Update!

Hey all. Roving Citizen here again in northern San Diego county. The special election is only a week away and things are heating up! Here's a summary of the latest news:

  • Francine Busby, the democratic candidate, still appears to be the front-runner. And the GOP may be a bit scared. They are now running a perfectly ridiculous attack ad down here. Josh Marshall breaks it down perfectly. Republicans really should not be bringing up the Keating Five ... though it's probably too late for any backlash to happen.
  • One of the leading GOP candidates to replace Duke Cunningham is Howard Kaloogian, who was in the news recently for a photo on his website that he claimed was of Baghdad. Along with the photo he wrote
    "We took this photo of dowtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it - in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism."
    ...gotta love that last line in particular. The best part? Turns out the photo is not of Baghdad at all, as beautifully proved here. So this guy has been getting a lot of press ... not all of it good.
  • Millionaire Eric Roach is also running for the seat, and he is in some legal hot water from one of his mailings. We learn that from this article. In the same article, we learn that Brian Bilbray, another GOPer angling for this seat, is under attack ... from fellow Republicans. Huh?

As far as I can tell, Busby is going to win the special election. The only question is whether she breaks 50% or if there will be a runoff. Stay tuned!


Conservatives Say Ends Justify Means

Today, the Washington Post reports that Bush and Cheney each authorized Scooter Libby to leak classified information to help their case for war in Iraq. The charge comes direclty from Libby himself! He filed it in court papers.

If we still lived in a democracy, heads would roll. The fact that the president authorized any leak of classified information is a big deal, because it is illegal. The President does not have the right to break the law if he thinks the ends are right.

Sadly, Republicans in Congress will never do anything about this. Conservatives are ends-justify-means folks, who really believe that it is absolutely right for Bush to break "small" laws that stand in the way of the Greater Good, the War on Terror, or Christian Values (which now include going to war whenever Bush says we should). That is what Bush's pappy did in the Iran-contra affair, both personally and in pardoning the late Cap Weinberger. The Bushes both condoned breaking the law for the Greater Good du jour. The idea that the ends justify the means was a canard thrown at liberals for years, based on men like Stalin who are not really leftists at all, but dictators. It should be increasingly clear that the charge is true for today's conservatives, who believe it is okay to say anything and do anything to serve their agenda.

Bush must be impeached!


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Restoring the Incentive to Work

Bush's tax cuts are fully implemented this year, including reducing the income tax on dividends to 15% (capital gains also top out at 15% now). Thus, a wealthy person who works pays 35% on the marginal dollar, but only 15% for returns on investments. This will lead to pernicious side effects.

To begin with, more and more wealthy people will use various tax devices to recharacterize income from wages to investment. A boon for tax lawyers, to be sure, and a reduction in transparency for accounting purposes. This sort of strategy benefits those who can afford tax lawyers above all. It will also result in a decline in revenue for the federal government, resulting in reduced services (thus higher out of pocket costs) for the rest of us.

Second, this incentive structure discourages work at the high end. For example, doctors now have a strong incentive to retire and invest rather than continue working. Republicans have always claimed that high taxation discourages work, which is normally a phony argument for tax cuts. All things being equal, a person earning $500,000/year will not say "no" to more money, even if taxed at a high rate. But now the Bush/Republican policies have made working much more expensive than investing -- all things are not equal.

Third, a scheme that pushes investing and dividends over work will provide an additional incentive to speculation in the stock market, day trading, and other unproductive activities.

Fourth, this devalues labor overall. Why should hard working people be taxed higher than the idle rich? Why should the tax code favor investment, and thereby punish working? The view that capital is much more important than labor (much more deserving of being honored) is a very right-wing Republican view, one that Democrats certainly should not endorse.

How would it affect our economy if all income taxes from wages were set at a flat rate of 10% with a $20,000 standard deduction, but investment and dividend income were taxed at the current progressive rates applied to income (e.g., marginal rate of 35%)? This would make labor cheaper and dramatically increase consumer spending, which is supposedly responsible for 2/3 the economic activity in the country. Wouldn't consumer spending drive investment as surely as low tax rates, but with the added bonus of immmediately raising living standards for the vast majority (the real goal, I should hope, of any economic policy)? I resent the fact that I pay much higher taxes now than a trust fund babe.

Honoring labor in the tax code is not a quaint idea, but may be the way for liberals to re-connect with the working classes who have been distracted by the social conservative agenda into voting for lower taxes for their bosses, paid for by less government service (higher cost of secondary education, worse K-12 schools, worse roads = more wear and tear on vehicles, closure of hospitals, etc.). Thoughts? Anybody willing to buck the Standard Economic Orthodoxy that says that cutting taxes on investment is the only option for economic growth?


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Insuring Massachusetts

It looks like Massachusetts has found a way to achieve near universal coverage. A pattern for the nation? The Democrats' plan for 2008? Mitt Romney (Republican governor and presidential wannabe) has yet to sign the bill, but it passed almost unanimously.

The bill requires all Massachusetts residents to obtain health coverage by July 1, 2007. Those who can afford insurance will be penalized on state income taxes if they do not purchase it, but all insurance plans will be fully tax deductible for individuals and small businesses (50 employees or less). Businesses with more than 10 employees will be assessed tax fines of up to $295 per employee per year. Reports on the bill suggest that 95% of uninsured, 99% of all, will be insured within three years. The state will also subsidize plans for those under 26 and those making 300% of the poverty line or less. Interesting idea.

It seems to spread the cost of the uninsured to both government and businessesm, but is an "individual mandate." I have not seen cost estimates, but the NYTimes reports that it is expected to cost only $1.2 billion more in total, almost all of it federal money for some reason, and is not expected to cost any more money after three years. Presumably the cost of not having to pay for uninsured is being used to, well, pay for insurance.


Republicans Rediscover the Filibuster

Ever intellectually dishonest and hypocritcal, the same conservative Republicans who have railed against the filibuster for 5 years have now discovered it again. McCain announced this morning that he cannot get the 60 votes at this time to overrule the expected REPUBLICAN filibuster against an immigration bill containing a guest worker program. Bush is helpless to push his party towards such a program, which he claims he wants, at least in front of hispanic audiences.

It just steams me. Will the Democrats jump up and down on the hypocrisy? No, of course not. When your spine is made of jello, it's hard to jump.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Supreme Indifference, or The Craven Court

They punted on Padilla again.

Mr. Jose Padilla is an American citizen, arrested peacefully on American soil, who was about to go to trial in New York in June 2002 when the Bush administration announced he had tried to build a "dirty" (radioactive) bomb, labeled him an "enemy combatant," and locked him up in the brig. Mr. Padilla's lawyers appealed on his behalf, demanding for Mr. Padilla the simple right to be charged with a crime--a right for free men as old as the Magna Carta.

A year-and-a-half later, in December 2003, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals heard Padilla's case and agreed with his demand in 2-1 decision. This time, the Justice Department appealed. So in June 2004 the Supreme Court finally got to rule on Mr. Padilla's case... and in a 5-4 ruling the justices punted and sent the case back to the lower courts, citing the rather questionable technicality that the lawsuit was filed in the wrong jurisdiction (they said his lawyers should have appealed in South Carolina, where Padilla was being held, rather than in New York, where he was arrested). Justice Stevens wrote in his dissent that the case was, "of profound importance to the Nation," but the court did not act.

So it went back to the lower courts, and in June 2005, Padilla's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to hear the appeal directly, as it was rather obvious it would wind up in their lap sooner or later, and by that point Padilla had been in jail without charge for three years. But the Supreme Court punted again and remanded it to the Fourth Circuit court of appeals.

In September 2005, the Fourth Circuit ruled that Bush did indeed have the authority to detain Padilla--and so, as expected, Padilla's lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court. But in November 2005, less than a week before the petition would have reached the Supreme Court, the Justice Department abruptly reversed course in November 2005 and indicted him in Miami on crimes that had nothing to do with a "dirty bomb." The government asked the Fourth Circuit to release Padilla (a routine request) and were stunned when an angry Fourth Circuit denied the request, insisting that the Supreme Court needed to hear the case.

But in January 2006, the Supreme Court punted again. They overruled the Fourth Circuit and allowed the military to transfer Padilla to Miami to face the charges (he pleaded not guilty.) Still, Padilla's lawyers asked the Supreme Court once more to hear the man's case, insisting that the four years he had been held without charge was something that could not be overlooked, and could not be swept aside just because the government changed its mind when the slow wheels of justice finally turned.

So now, in a 6-3 decision (which Stevens joined, incidentally) the justices sidestepped it again. This time, they said it was moot because the Bush administration had granted Padilla the principal relief he asked for--a criminal indictment. (Of course, if the Supreme Court had not overrulled the Fourth Circuit in January, this excuse would not have been available to them.)

The Supreme Court has started doing this quite a bit lately.

They punted on the Newdow ("Under God") pledge-of-allegiance case too. Newdow as plaintiff and attorney gave eloquent, personal arguments before the court. But rather than trying to decide where the line between ceremonial deism and state-sponsored indoctrination fell, the Supreme Court ruled against Newdow on a technicality, saying that Mr. Newdow did not have standing to bring the case on his daughter's behalf. Since that time, several parents and children with bedrock standing to bring the same suit have done so--with Newdow as the attorney. And in November 2005, a judge sided with Newdow (but sensibly stayed his order pending appeal). It is on its way to the Ninth Circuit.

If Supreme Court justices, men and women (well, woman) with lifetime appointments, are so afraid to answer the questions brought before them that they must weasel out of their duties time and time again on technicalities, while hundreds of people remain in custody for years without even being charged with a crime... what hope is there for anyone? Shame on them! The last time they showed any guts was in Lawrence v. Texas (2003)--and the last time they showed any guts in the face of the Executive branch was Clinton v. Jones (1997).

Some of you will say, wait a minute--"What about the Hamdi case? Did they stand up then?" Didn't Justice O'Connor say that war powers were not a blank check for the President? And I say: look at the results. In the case of Yaser Hamdi--another U.S. citizen arrested as an enemy combatant (although he was picked up in Afghanistan, not the U.S.)--the court in a split decision finally said Hamdi had some right to challenge the label of "enemy combatant" in some forum... but they said so little about what was required that the decision was almost meaningless.

And it was treated as such. The Bush Administration ignored the court, stripped Hamdi of his citizenship three months later, and exiled him to Saudi Arabia--still never having charged him with anything. Then the Justice Department set up kangaroo courts (excuse me, "military tribunals") offering minimal due process if any, and even so, these tribunals have yet to hear a fraction of the cases. And now the Republican Congress has passed a law saying that Guantanamo Bay inmates can't even get access to these tribunals.

Want to know what a "blank check" looks like? Try the Kennedy/Roberts/Stevens opinion denying the writ of certiori (again) to Mr. Jose Padilla. I quote:

That Padilla's claims raise fundamental issues respecting the separation of powers, including consideration of the role and function of the courts, also counsels against addressing those claims when the course of legal proceedings has made them, at least for now, hypothetical.

(In other words, the "enemy combatant" question is too big to tackle, even though it's four years late and they wouldn't even have to set Padilla free or change his status in any way). Only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had the courage and indignation (and the balls?) to write in her dissent that the Court ought to have decided the case two years ago instead of chucking it out on a technicality--and she threw Stevens' words about "profound importance to the Nation" back at him.

The nobles who wrote the Magna Carta so many centuries ago would not have stood for this. They would have known that a craven court is no court at all.

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.
Magna Carta (Article 39. In translation)


Paris is NOT L.A.

Here's a guest post from an American visiting Paris. It's full of interesting points I think you will all enjoy. I have somewhat edited it for various reasons.

Here is a story that is probably not conceivable in LA. It was on the news last night. A group of Lyceens (high schoolers) from a lycee (high school) near here, the Lycee Raspail wanted to do something to protest vs the CPE. First, they decide NO SCHOOL. Then they (some of them at least) have an even better idea: Let's block the peripherique (highway around the city -- this is where the 'no way this is LA' comes into play. So off they march, led by a bearded guy, probably a teacher, with camera crew in tow; to make a statement. A reporter asks the teacher: 'isn't it dangerous to block a highway?' 'Sure' comes the quick response, 'but in extreme times, decisive action is needed.' Unbelievably, for an American at least, they succeed in blocking one lane of the peripherique, with no one run over or beaten up. The local police show up, but mostly their task is to keep things orderly. The traffic starts to back up, 2km, 3km etc up to at least 10 km. A splinter group then gets the bright idea to block the other side as well. Once again; amazingly, they manage it with no broken limbs. By now the prefet (police commissioner, more or less) has learned of this and he is not amused. He calls in the CRS (essentially riot police). The Lyceens have been waiting for this. They have been picking daffodils just for this occasion. They hand the daffodils to the CRS or stick them in the CRS uniforms. In exchange, the CRS load them into busses. Off they go, singing away--just another day of political protest for lyceens.

How would that work on the 10 or the 405?

Le Monde today had a front page story by an economist who, while not endorsing the CPE, pointed out the sorry state of French work rules and the endemic unemployment that results. Italy, Spain and Germany are all cutting their unemployment rates, but in France things are not changing. Only in the old Soviet states of central Europe is unemployment as problematic. Inside, buried, was a story by another economist, this time highly critical of the CPE. I wonder if the placement meant anything?

To an outsider, this definitely seems like an inversion of 1968. Then the demand was for change. Now the demand is to preserve privileges. Nobody seems to be linking this with last fall's riots (though Villepin says he is trying to increase youth employment) but it seems that the white civil servants and others who already have work are saying 'tough' to the proposal to increase work for those who have no jobs. They definitely do not want to experiment with anything that smacks of Anglo-Saxon liberalism.